Thursday, October 8, 2020

Swankie is back in the house...

Hello Friends,

 I began this blog over 10 years ago.  Somehow last year... I got locked out of it... and with everything that was going on, I just could not find a way to get back in to edit or post new material.  Today, Oct 8 2020... I did it... I managed to gain access once again.

I have just gone through and deleted all the SPAM comments.  Now, there are some missing photo on some post.  Need to fix that.

Will be creating a new HOME page that will be like an outline to the entire blog.  And I have a new domain name I will be attaching to it once the updates and corrections are made.

Please forgive me for my absence.  Ten plus years... lots can happen.  Unexpected things can happen... things you never had on your bucket list.  Along with Covid, 2020 has surprised me in ways that are nothing short of astrounding... I became an Actress... and am even being put up for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Frances McDormand????   WHAT???   Well, I can tell you that was never on my Bucket List.  The day I met her on set, to begin filming with her the next day, was the first day I even knew her name.  Having been on the road for  a decade... I wasn't seeing a lot of movies and didn't know any of her's.   I never saw any of her movies until after we wrapped filming Nomadland.

Since I began this blog I have lost track of some folk, a few have even passed away.  But some are still in touch and in fact many of my nomad friends are in the movie with me.  Linda May and Bob Wells and I were the main supporting non-actor actors in the movie.  It will be out in a limited release on Dec 4, 2020.

Teaser Trailer... new longer trailer will be out soon.

Now that I am back in my blog, I will try to do a better job of keeping you all updated.


P.S.  Please note that my new domain name will be well, why not??  LOL

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Man you oughta see her fly…

One of my all time favorite songs is “A Broken Wing” by Martina McBride.  It speaks to my heart and soul.  Early this morning it came to me that it seemed everyone in my life had been trying to break my spirit down, everyone but my beloved Grandmother, Olive Carlton and my one true love, David Swankie.  They were the only ones who believed I could fly and encouraged me to do so.  And they were right, I am flying now.  Here are all the lyrics… and I will insert thoughts about my life.

She loved him like he was
The last man on Earth
Gave him everything she ever had
He'd break her spirit down
Then come lovin' up on her
Give a little then take it back

Yes, everyone (you define everyone) seemed to let me take a step forward but then push me back two steps.  As a child, I always wanted to become a veterinarian but was told… “We don’t have money for college… learn to type, you can always get a job.”  I was told, “you can’t wear horizontal strips… it makes you look fatter.”  I was told “You can’t buy that white suit… it makes you look like an ice cream vendor.” The verbal abuse just never ended… and as a child and a teenager, I cried myself to sleep most nights.  I cried for my absent father because surely life with him would be better.  I felt suicidal… but could not tell anyone.  I was not even allowed to take an aspirin for a headache and I suffered from migraines from a very early age.  At 15, I walked into a doctors office right off the street, a doctor I didn’t know… and begged for help as the migraine made me feel like I was loosing my mind.  Within my family, there was no help to be found… we were “Christian Scientists.”

She'd tell him 'bout her dreams
He'd just shoot 'em down
Lord he loved to make her cry
You're crazy for believin'
You'll ever leave the ground
He said only angels know how to fly

Yes, they made me feel like I would never leave the ground. As soon as I got out of high school… I was off to the Dakotas to find my absent father… because surely he would love me and let me fly.  But once there, an in-law of his said… “Why don’t you go back where you belong, you are causing trouble here.”  Go back where I belonged… where was that?  I felt that surely I had been switched at birth.  It never felt like I belonged anywhere, except at my Grandmother’s kitchen table… and she had her own family and her own life… I could not be a burden to her.  So, broken-hearted once again, I left… keeping my eye over the sky.  There must be a place for me… surely someone would love me.

And with a broken wing
She still sings
She keeps an eye over the sky
With a broken wing
She carries her dreams
Man you oughta see her fly

Dreams???  What dreams could I have?  No money for college, no family support, no skills or training.  I can’t even remember how, but I got a job (working for Layne Bryant as an inventory clerk) and began night school. I believed getting an education would turn things around for me.  I rented a room near my school.  I met a man in night school… and a few months later we were married in my Grandmother’s living room… cost $25 for the preacher, a sheet cake, my high school prom dress. Two years later, his job took us away from my hometown… we had our first child and began to travel the world… I was finally flying.  From Indiana to Florida, to Europe, to Iran (where our second child was born), to the American West, to West Africa… I was flying.

One Sunday morning
She didn't go to church
He wondered why she didn't leave
He went up to the bedroom
Found a note by the window
With the curtains blowin' in the breeze

But something went wrong with my marriage and we broke up, and I crashed to the ground.  Now I was uneducated, no skills, no training, no job… and the single mother of two little boys.  I had a broken wing, my spirit felt crushed. Suicidal thoughts returned but I could not bear to leave my sons with such an image… so I kept flapping my wings.

And with a broken wing
She still sings
She keeps an eye over the sky
With a broken wing
She carries her dreams
Man you oughta see her fly

I kept flapping wings, and singing and dreaming… I guess it was a bad time for my sons… they don’t have good memories of their childhood.  But I kept going to college, got degrees… and somehow in the meantime… they grew up and left home.  By the time I earned my master’s degree, they were married and off on their own.  How did all that happen?  Where did all the flowers go???  Where had my little boys gone?  Suddenly, I was a Grandma… but not the kind I wanted to be… not the kind my Grandma was to me.  It felt like ….I'd tell them 'bout my dreams and they would just shoot 'em down.  I asked, “Can I come watch the child open presents Christmas morning?”  I was told… “Christmas morning was only for family.”  Lord they seemed to love to make me cry.  But…

With a broken wing
She carries her dreams
Man you oughta see her fly

So, I flew away from them all… I could not bear anymore heartache… so I flew away.  If you don’t have a reason to stay, you must have a reason to leave. The void left in my heart by not being a part of the lives of my children and grandchildren would take some huge larger-than-life-itself kind of goals to survive… so I got a van… and set out to kayak America.  In the process, I regained my sanity (I think?), regained my health, and began finding my true self.  I was learning what it really meant to fly and set my spirit free.

I found a new family… vandwellers, who do support my dreams and even cherish them. They even call me an Inspiration.  My vanily (van-family) gives me all the love and support I always thought my bio-family should give.  Many of us out on the road feel that way, estranged. I am NOT alone.

I reached one dream to kayak America, all 50 states, on my 70th birthday… Hawaii.  It was a grand day but only one of my sons celebrated that day with me.  Now at 75, I am recovering from a total reverse shoulder replacement (a real broken wing?) and I am seeking a new dream, yet to be defined. 

In spite of the heartaches of the past, I have somehow… become a star!!!

First, I was only one of many people interviewed for Jessica Bruder’s book, NomadLand (

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I took that photo of Jess on top of her van, the year she interviewed me for her book.

Second, then magically, a major movie role fell in my lap, in the fictionalized movie version of Jessica’s book, to be released in probably 2020, NomadLand, the Movie.  The first news releases refer to me as a “star.” I thought it was just going to be a bit part as I never had any aspirations to become an actor. I guess I have finally learned to fly. This is requiring a major re-evaluation of my self-image.  Major.

The film follows McDormand’s Oscar-winning role in Searchlight’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” David Strathairn, Linda May, and Charlene Swankie also star.

Imagine that, my friend, Linda May and I, are sharing top billing with greats like Frances McDormand and David Strathairn???   What the heck?  Will wonders never cease?

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Frances McDormand on set in Quartzsite, AZ – January 2019.

Never give up. When one door shuts, maybe another will open. 
If a door opens, go through it and set your spirit free.

Press Release Feb. 2019:


Songwriters: James House / Phil Barnhart / Sam Hogin

A Broken Wing lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Monday, December 24, 2018

Quartzsite Gatherings, Winter 2018-19

Just a quick overview of the major vandweller gatherings this winter.  What, where, when and how.  Not all inclusive by any means, just links to where you can find more information.  (bits and pieces borrowed from Bob and Suanne.)

Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (WRTR):  Jan 4-8, 2019 

What: WRTR is part of Bob Well's CheapRVLiving organization.  An extension of the WRTR, this Facebook group of women collectively share wisdom, skills and practical knowledge about the nomadic lifestyle. It is a safe and inclusive space for women of all backgrounds and circumstances to participate in mentoring, networking, sharing information and developing skills. The goal of the group is to create a virtual classroom and networking avenue in which all are encouraged to be both teacher and student, mentor and mentee. This group is open to women who have attended a Women's RTR, or plan to attend in the future --

Where:  Bouse AZ


Description of each area:

1) Limited Mobility: If you are handicapped, disabled, or have a limited mobility, go here. If a man is a woman-participant's caregiver, then camp here.

2) Allies: Where women who share their rig with a male will hang out and camp.

Camps 3-13 are intended to be for women only.

3) Smoke- and Fragrance-Free: For women who are chemically sensitive.

4) Healthy Living Activities: For the woman making healthy lifestyle choices, regardless of were she is in her journey.

5) Art: For any type of artistic activities, except audio art.

6) Rainbow: For LGBTQ and friends, a supportive place.

7) Tenders: For women who sleep in their tents, especially geared for newbies to support one another.

8) Quiet: The most popular camp selection in the poll. Women may camp at more of a distance from one another.

9) Pet Owners: Join this camp for camaraderie with other animal lovers.

10) Little Noise: For shorter-duration quieter sounds, less than an hour, less than 60db, including music a very quiet generators.

11) Generators: For women who want to run their loud (more than 60db) or long-running (more than 1 hour) generators or engines.

12) Music: This camp will be for folks who play and listen to music for longer lengths of time.

13) Nature: For women who enjoy the company of others who also love exploring and learning about nature.

When:  January 4-8, 2019

How:  For details go to Facebook WRTR – currently 1,498 members.


Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR):  Jan 9-20, 2019  (almost anything you need to learn about this lifestyle can be found on his site.)

What:  Bob Wells started the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (commonly called the RTR) in January 2010. There were 45 of us that first year and we all had a great time. It was so great that we’ve been holding it annually ever since and it has grown larger every year. 

There will be many very experienced vandwellers at the RTR and an even larger number of newcomers. That creates a perfect opportunity for learning, so we put on seminars most days covering basic subjects of interest to vandwellers.

Schedule is a work in progress… not finalized.


Where:  Quartzsite, AZ

33.649045, -114.145593

Video on location:  Bob’s Video:

RVTV Video (with internet upload and download speeds:

When:  Jan 9-20, 2019

How:  Getting a Special Use Permit makes that person responsible for what goes during the event–at the RTR, that someone is Bob Wells! If you do something wrong, first BLM will talk to you, but then they will come talk to Bob and issue him a warning. If he can’t control the group, BLM won’t allow us to gather! IT IS BOB’s CAMP, AND HE DOES  EXPECT YOU FOLLOW THE RULES. If you insist on breaking the rules, the Ranger will be glad to enforce BLM rules.

Main web site:  (tons of resources and how to do info.)


Tiny Care Living Resources:

Suanne Carlson’s Prius:

David Swanson:  Luxury Living in a Prius:


Swankie Wheels Blog:

Swankie Wheels Facebook Page:

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

2018 November–Jamie’s Van Build–Parker, AZ

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Crowds and Noise is NOT why I come to the wilderness, but I tried to stay at Jamie Dimon’s Van Build Party.  Couldn’t do it.  So... I grabbed my day pack and headed into the Wild. It had been months and months since I have felt so happy and free. I had no breathing issues, no problems with my legs and more importantly, no problems with the pack on my shoulder. I walked two hours into the Wild then tried to rest a minute, but the flies found me fast. I had not brought any bug spray. So, I kept walking and taking photos and spent next two hours walking back to van.  A four-hour hike with ease… not bad for a 75-year old granny???

I took four bottles of water, and only drank 1/2 bottle. I think I can do this AZ Trail hike. I think I can. SWANKIE’S BACK!!!!

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Back Story:  I arrived at Jamie's Van Build the day before it began. It was already getting crowded. But I set up camp, put a cake in the oven to bake, and tried out my new windshield cover... which did not fit. I ordered the wrong one, I guess. No way it was fitting a Chevy... it was for a Ford. My neighbor, Kaycee explained what was wrong. But it did work very well, other than NOT fitting. I have to return it, but first I needed to get an address.

Setting up camp for me... means tilting up the solar panels, raising up the T.V. antenna (but got no signals out there), covering the tires to prevent sun damage. Also had a lot to sort and and re-shuffle if I was going to easily slide my kayak out of the trailer.

In the future, I may get one of these pop-up tents pictured below, a White shade cloth, pictured, a extending T.V. and Cell antenna pole, and a Cell signal enhancer antenna or whatever they are called.  Maybe when I get rich????

The day I arrived the build was already too crowded for me... so I had doubts about staying long. But I liked the people nearby... Kaycee, Merle Redwing, Tami Otis. I enjoyed the people walking by who stopped to talk. But I was feeling anxious.

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Walking around, I met this guy, who had one of the pop up tents that Kaycee demonstrated on Bob Wells You-Tube channel, but his was the next size up and six-sided, not four. He also had a pretty cool van, but the sliding according screen door really got my attention.  Is that sliding door cool, or what????

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This is that six-sided pop up tent. I am going to get one. I can no longer erect the 10x10 canopy tent I had, due to the shoulder so I gave it away. But I think I can handle this one. This guy lucked out and got it for about $250. Since I hate bugs but love being outside... great solution.

Again, that six-sided pop tent on the right, I plan to buy later. I think this might be a different one.  I am adding it to my Amazon Future Wish List.

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Although these people were not full time dwellers, I did like this kitchen trailer. Very neat. It tows behind their van.  So efficient, but I like having everything inside my rig, so I can cook when I please. But for short vacations, like visiting with true full-timers... it is swell, for them.

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Very clever engineering... it swings away. Seems like a lot of weight, but if you go back to first photo, you can see a Jack under the other end of it. Not sure how it stows for towing.

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A man car-camping, parked across from me, and was enjoying his little bit of shade.. then two larger rigs came in on one side of him and 3 more on the other side... places I never would have considered suitable. They were crowding in on him and me… my anxiety was escalating.  He finally gave up and left.

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The first official night of the Build, Nov. 7, the campfire ring was established and the fires began, but there was no loud music. Jamie arrived late that morning and had to shuffle folks around to make room for himself... in my opinion he should have been there a day or two earlier to set things up... or not let others, besides the "workers/builders," in on Nov. 7, then on Nov. 8 allow only the people needing work done to come in. IMHO all the visitors and vacationers not helping or getting work done, should have parked farther down the road and walked in to lurk and visit.
I was just grateful Jamie's LOUD camp noise did not begin that night... he had not yet gotten set up for it. And because he arrived so late, he ended up closer to the QUIET area than to his designated LOUD area (areas he had designated). Ugh... is there no avoiding it? I had decided I would do my best to be there for the BUILD and endure it. I am going to give it my best try.

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There were some interesting sights. These folk were set up to help others install solar. They are not full-timers either but generous to offer their help.

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Met Tami Otis in town before coming to Build... and she camped with me a couple days. She came to learn about solar, and help with sewing projects. All the way from SD? Funny, folks from the far north, are uncovered and soaking up the sun, and those of us acclimated to the desert temps... are wearing long pants and jackets.
And she has this cool dog named Dash.  The lattice work is mine... set up to block off her parking space... someone remarked how she was lounging in her front yard behind her white picket fence... I thought that was funny, so I took her photo.

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I didn't realize it, but I came in and parked right next to Bob Wells' assistant, Kaycee. She flew her Drone a few times and I am hoping to get a couple still shots of our camp from her later. If you watch her video for Bob on the Van Build, you will see my van and trailer in several shots.  Also parked with us was Merle Redwing. The three of us are working together later this winter on a project. Funny how we all un-intentionally met up at the same place and time.  Note all the rigs in background... the man in earlier photo with the solo car... was parked by that bush, right behind Kaycee’s head... none of those vans were there at the time. I think they crowded him out.

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My trailer and work bench... it was set up to hold that space. Kaycee with her two dogs, a friend of her's, my new friend Tami Otis, and Merle Redwing. The workbench became a spontaneous breakfast spot.

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Swankie's Café... served the cake I made yesterday.

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I could not stay at Jamie's Van Build. The night of Nov. 8, he began playing loud music at 7:30pm and it lasted until about 11:30pm. I felt murderous rage building up in me... and that is not a fun way to drift off to slumberland. Doesn't bother some folks... Tami, right next to me, never heard a thing. So I moved a couple miles down the road... joined later by Marty Starks... and she set up the GVN sign so others would spot us and drop in.  No one did, or I was not home at the time.

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2018-November GVN meet up.

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Not everyone was as happy as I was. Dora was miserable. She likes her yard and green grass. Poor sweet old soul was having a melt-down.

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Marty Starks and I saw a sign post a little way away from camp and walked out to see what it was. OMG... I left Colorado Springs after surgery to go find me some Wilderness... and there it was... I had unknowingly parked right at the edge of it. I was like a kid at Christmas.  I think I squealed when I saw the word WILDERNESS. There was nothing to be done but to hike out into the wild.

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Tiny little cactus sprouting up between two rocks. Nature is amazing.

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When they converted this area to "Gibraltar Mountain Wilderness" they closed off this old road (where my shadow is) and scattered large rocks the entire length of it. You can tell they are not in a natural location, as the lighter side of the rock should be facing down, and dark side up, like along the roadside berm.  

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Once I got all the way down in the lowest elevation... I found a flower. Desert flowers have to be really tiny to survive.  From the web site: The United States Congress designated the Gibraltar Mountain Wilderness (map) in 1990 and it now has a total of 18,790 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Arizona and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

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On my last two-minute break...I spotted this little guy, maybe 3" long... well, at least he will have lots of flies to eat... I left him my share.

From the web site:  The Gibraltar Mountain Wilderness is part of the 110 million acre National Wilderness Preservation System. This System of lands provides clean air, water, and habitat critical for rare and endangered plants and animals. In wilderness, you can enjoy challenging recreational activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, horse packing, bird watching, stargazing, and extraordinary opportunities for solitude. You play an important role in helping to "secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness" as called for by the Congress of the United States through the Wilderness Act of 1964. Please follow the requirements outlined below and use Leave No Trace techniques when visiting the Gibraltar Mountain Wilderness to ensure protection of this unique area.

Unless otherwise specified, no motorized equipment or mechanical transport, with the exception of wheelchairs, is allowed. This is generally true for all federal lands managed as designated wilderness.

See a list of other Wilderness Areas in Arizona.

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As I reached the crest of the hill I had climbed over, I took a photo of my rig... my camera was zoomed in as far as I can zoom. I saw there were two vehicles there, but with the human eye alone, I thought the other was Marty Starks. That is NOT Marty's. Whose is that??? Sorry I missed you.... or maybe you came because of the GVN sign???

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Well, it finally got cold enough for the girl from the North to bundle up. Tami Otis, you are so funny. She stopped by for a short visit. The LOUDness of the Build doesn't bother her, and I am glad she is able to get what she came all this way to get – give help with sewing and get help with solar… and LEARN.

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I explored the area a bit on my way to Parker for supplies, and then returned for my trailer and moved my camp about 2 miles West of the Build. At the time I parked, I had not seen these rock art figures. What a neat surprise.  Modern man art.

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Other rock are images were, a lizard, some mountains with sun-rising, a howling coyote, a star around a bush. Really nice.

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And a very amazing sunset.

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The first Wilderness area I hiked into was East of the Build. Second time, I hiked out south of my new camp... across a very wide Wash... and found sand dunes that was also a designated Wilderness area. Very cool area... lots to see if you venture out to look.

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Decided to drive back to Build and walkabout... to take photos of some of the unusual rigs. Enjoy.

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A carpenter shop set right up beside this rig.

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Camp Central (Jamie's rig)

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White shade cloth. I like this. May get a small one to stretch between the van and the new pop up tent.

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Red bus:  Jax Austin’s - This guy got a lot of folks to help him paint his bus out there.

Right photo: This one whole end of the build was like a giant outdoor carpenter shop... they had every tool anyone would need for anything.

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Sewing work station this year.  I volunteered to help but decided my shoulder was not ready for it.

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Six sewing machines, at least 7-8 ladies sewing for the entire Build time. Yes, I guess there was a need.  Even a little improvised fabric shop. Way cool the way these gals set up and organized all this. There was another gal at the far end of the build who was doing window panels of some sort.

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And of course, the person who should not have a dog... fell in love with this one... how could you NOT love that face?

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As I was about to drive away, I spotted this one on the road. People who had something like that, maybe these, were camp host a few years back at the Scadden Wash 2-wk. area East of Quartzsite.

So, off I went to Bill Williams Wilderness to kayak the first time since surgery.  It was divine.  I could only go 1/4 of my normal time and distance, but it’s all good. The new kayak chute in the trailer worked perfect… no lifting, no straining. I still have too much stuff.


Returning to town, I got some computer work done and in the process learned there was a prehistoric intaglio near Jamie’s Van Build so I went back to find it. Saw a video by TeardropRVTravels. I had never seen his videos before, as I don't subscribe to many channels. Well, heck, I just had to go find it. Turns out it was less than five miles from the Build site.

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The Parker Giant Snake Intaglio is a protected Archaeological Site, fenced off to prevent ATVers from driving over the Intaglio.  There it is. The Giant Snake. Pretty darned impressive. I am so proud of myself.


My first camp away from the Build, was a the red bubble in lower left corner.  The Snake Intaglio is at the red x in upper right corner.  Less than a mile I think.

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I walked the entire fenced in area... and found this... I believe it is a grave site. I will research and see if it is mentioned.

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This depression was probably made by a Desert Tortoise.... they make these to collect rainwater... they can sense when it will rain, then they sit and wait for it... and drink their fill. They might not get more water for a year.

Near the depression was a burrow... the right shape for the shell. I have seen many before. They can easily dig out of where it is caved in.

And some people think the desert is boring and there is nothing out here to see or do. I wonder how many of the 1,000 or so people at Jamie’s Van Build Party even knew about this – the Gibraltar Mountain Wilderness????


I love my life.

Learn more about me:

Who is Swankie?

My photo
Anywhere, USA, Full-Time USA traveler, United States
In 2006, I was shopping for a wheelchair. By 2007, I had new knees, better health and by 2008 a kayak. In Aug 2013, I kayaked my 49th state, Alaska, at the Holgate Glacier and in May 2014, I kayaked Hawaii, my 50th state, to celebrate my 70th Birthday and the finale to the wonderful adventure of Kayaking America? Next up... Solo Hiking the Arizona Trail, 820 miles? Maybe. Still healing from shoulder and trying to decide.